U.S.-Mexico border more secure than ever, officials say
The U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than it’s ever been, according to current and former top border officials who appeared at a panel hosted by the Center for American Progress on Thursday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin defended the results of an unprecedented escalation and intensification of border security that began in the 1990s and accelerated under Presidents Bush and Obama.
“The specific theory of action,” Bersin explained, “was to push people out of easy urban places to cross the border, to push them out of the situation where you could simply walk across the border, get into the transportation network and then move anywhere into the interior of the United States.”
He pointed out that in 1993 there were 3,000 border agents; today, there are over 21,000.
Bersin and his fellow panelist, Clinton-era commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Doris Meissner, explained how concentrations of border agents in San Diego, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, which in 1993 were the two primary entry points for undocumented immigrants, had pushed unauthorized border traffic towards Arizona, which is still the most active illegal crossing point into the United States. Today, however, overall apprehensions have dropped by 73 percent since they peaked in 2000, which Bersin and Meissner both claimed was sign of effective deterrence.
But Bersin also stressed the difficulty of putting an end to the organized crime outfits who now provide most of the ‘coyote’ or border smuggling of undocumented immigrants. He pointed out that coyotes used to be mom-and-pop operations, but the increased cost of crossing the border, because of the security ramp-up, had empowered the cartels. He likened the effort to combat Mexican organized crime to anti-Mafia efforts in the United States, which “took 30 years” to achieve permanent success.
Meissner, who oversaw the initial implementation of the agent concentration strategy, argued for legal pathways for immigrants as a means of further deterring illegal crossings. She also stressed the importance of making the public aware of the progress made in border security under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.
The author of CAP’s new report on border security (PDF) and moderator of the event, Marshall Fitz, argued that the comments made by Bersin and Meissner, as well as his report, showed the need for policymakers in Washington to stop talking as if the border isn’t functioning. In his report, he rebuts the claims of House Judiciary Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that border security hasn’t improved under the Obama administration and that non-border related immigration reform therefore can’t proceed: “Rep. Smith is effectively demanding an absolute seal of the border — an unattainable objective — as a precondition to discussion of broader immigration reforms.”
An image from the report shows the scale of the across-the-board decrease in border apprehensions in the past decade: